The Big Beef
A return trip to the Hong Kong outpost of Morton’s of Chicago is very close to just getting on an airplane and flying back to the United States. There needs to be a big sign at the door: Danger: American Portions.
Morton’s is busily establishing beachheads across Asia — so far in the Sheraton Hotel in Hong Kong, another in the Mandarin Oriental Singapore and a brand new one in the vast new Venetian Macau Resort Hotel on the booming Cotai Strip. If it is red meat you crave, this is the place. There are martinis too, big enough for a birdbath for the crested bulbul (pycnonotus jocosus) and his feathered family.
Like George W. Bush himself, there is not an ounce of subtlety about Morton’s, which is the highest-end steak house around. It is loud, filled with the confident voices of capitalists, a place where the waiter struggles up to your table with a cart containing more red beef than the Wan Chai market. A young and confident waiter recites the entire menu without taking a breath. At the end he waves a giant Maine lobster, its eyes glaring and its claws undulating. The menu comes later, after the recitation, and it contains the words Colossal (shrimp cocktail, shrimp Alexander), Jumbo (lump crabmeat, lump crab cake, lobster tail, asparagus, baked potato), Double (filet mignon, Porterhouse, lamb chops) and various other outsized adjectives. They mean every one of them.
The centerpiece on that cart is a 48-ounce double Porterhouse steak costing HK$1,130, a price that hasn’t increased in three years. That steak is a full three pounds, or 1.4 kilograms of meat. Some children do not weigh that at birth. Accompanying the steaks are potatoes that might well have been used as practice rugby balls by the South African Springboks as they warmed up for their World Cup victory.
Occasionally, the waiters say, somebody — rugby players in town for the Hong Kong Sevens tournament, a handful of US Marines off the boat, will tackle that double Porterhouse and succeed in downing it. The restaurant says they sell about half a dozen a week, more often to entire families who line up to see it carved at the table. Nobody in Morton’s is going to come down with kwashiorkor, the wasting disease caused by lack of protein. Adults need a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight, or 60 grams for the average 75-kilo male. It fills the protein requirement for an entire family and both sets of grandparents.
Even the single-cut filet mignon, the smallest steak in the place, is usually shared. The kitchen is happy to split a steak in two for the missus, who likes it well done, and the master, who likes it rare. And they do know that if you order your steak rare, it means rare — not vaguely pink in the middle.
This is the place where you can take care of the dietary requirements at the very top of the Atkins diet pyramid, which seems to be composed entirely of different cuts of red meat. The Atkins diet, at least for the first two weeks, contains no fruit, no bread, no grains, no starchy vegetables and no dairy products other than cheese, cream or butter. (The churlish like to point out that Dr Atkins, who died in 2003, weighed 258 pounds at the time of his death, some 60 pounds overweight. His widow says his major organs failed and fluid retention and bloating dramatically distorted his body. But never mind.)
In any case, don’t look for rice on the Morton’s menu. There isn’t any – just those jumbo baked potatoes, hash brown potatoes, Lyonnaise potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato skins and French fried potatoes. For the health conscious, there are asparagus spears the size of tree limbs.
Don’t count on whispering to your date and it is wise to get used to the whack and clash of cutlery as diners wield what appear to be the biggest steak knives in Hong Kong if not on the planet, knives a Gurkha could carry into battle.
The wine list. As the meat cart is wheeled up before the menu, right at most diners’ elbows are double magnums of Chateau Lynch-Bages, one of Bordeaux’s finest reds, to tempt you — if you brought along several credit cards. The 12-page wine list includes lots of California wines running all the way up to a 1991 Beringer private reserve at HK$18,690, or six-liter imperiale labels from France, somehow fitting given the current rapprochement between Sarko and 43.
This is not just another mass-market steak house by any means. This is a place for power dining and, given the size of the martinis, power drinking. It is also has some of Hong Kong’s most spectacular views, when the increasingly noxious air allows it. Across the rapidly diminishing harbor, the night sky is often lit up by the tourism authority’s periodic fireworks and laser show, a relatively appropriate atmosphere for what’s going on inside the restaurant itself, which is plenty. This place is a statement on America’s love of bounty and excess, take it or leave it. .